imageinvisible

How the Invisible God becomes Visible | Part 2

In part 1, which you can read here, I wrote about the significance of Jesus becoming the image of the invisible God (a phrase from Colossians), and the significance of the idea of imaging God, which began in the garden with Adam and Eve.

..As Paul remarks so famously in Romans, Jesus becomes a kind of second Adam, a second humanity, a reclaiming of the ancient vocation of humans to bear the image of God faithfully.

Incarnation makes our bodies holy

In that sense, God begins redemption not just through the work of the cross, but actually in the incarnation. The uniting of the divine and the human is the coming together that God has longed for since our Edenic origins. Often in our desire to exalt Jesus we emphasise his divinity as the Christ. But in exalting his divinity we risk eclipsing his humanity and the remarkable ability and desire of God to reveal his glory in the form of humanity.

Often our accounts of sin can quickly dichotomise. We wrongly merge together the biblical word ‘flesh’ and the word ‘body’. This can lead us to want to somehow escape the visible body for some sense of unseen or spiritual being. This is a mistaken reading I addressed in a previous post here.

But Jesus’ incarnation shows us that a God-shaped life is a life in a body, even in Jesus’ ascension he returns to the right hand of the Father. He is forever incarnated in his new-creation body which is renewed but still bears enough continuity to his previous body to be recognised by his friends.

A People included In Christ by the Spirit with the Father

As the fully God, fully human Jesus returns to the Father in his ascension, he promises the coming of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Jesus, exactly because Holy Spirit enables us to be united with the risen and ascended humanity of Jesus.

This is the meaning of the phrased used again and again in Paul’s writing, “In Christ”, which pauline scholar, Gordon Fee, calls the tag line, or unifying theme throughout his letters. In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, Paul calls Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Adoption. A phrase which captures the way in which Holy Spirit re-unites our belonging to the Father in family. In all these various names for Holy Spirit we can see that the Spirit’s role in this age has been to unite God’s people into fellowship with the Father by including us, or seating us, in and with the Son.

Relationship at the centre of the Universe

These appearances of the three persons of God were later in the church’s history called trinity. It is the affirmation of the church through the ages as they read the scriptures that the Christian God is one. In that way we bear similarities to the confession of judaism and islam.

But where Christians depart from this monotheistic confession is to claim that while God is one, God is one in three persons. Do the math 1 does not equal 3. This claim is purposefully non-logical, it is the mystery at the centre of christian faith. The trinity is a truth revealed by the very persons of God. A relational God who’s being is not established by a clean doctrinal formulation but by God’s personal revelation of Himself.

Don’t worry if that last paragraph made your head spin, just know this, God is 3 in 1 and there is not a way to know that in abstract only by knowing God relationally.

Part of the reason God being 3 persons is a remarkable claim is because it asserts that at the centre of the universe is not matter, energy or divine will but a relationship of love. That is why we can say, with John’s account of the gospel that “God is Love”.

Consider that, that the very foundation of the universe is relational. That is why anything that constitutes true knowledge in this world is inherently relational 1.

Stay Tuned for Part 3, coming soon.


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  1. which may explain my dislike of pure math! Although Michael Polyani’s reflections of the relational character of knowledge is a fascinating restatement of scientific truth as inherently relational. 

The Very Best | Music on Mondays

partnerlocal

7 Ways Outsiders Can Help Fuel Movement & Transformation

One of the fine folks we get to interact with every now and again is Brandon Jones. He lives in Nairobi, Kenya and is from the US originally. He is a deep thinker, but also very much a practitioner in helping ignite movements of people to follow Jesus. One of the difficult dynamics of working in Africa as an outsider is that every action feels like it carrys the possibility of colonial or oppressive shadow sides. Brandon helps de-stigmatise and articulate the role of an outsider in a way that can contribute to kingdom activity while working in someone else’s native land – Liam


In our church planting work it’s not uncommon for people to question our role as outsiders, in terms of the important shift towards recognizing the great need to empower strong local leadership, particularly where sustainability and long term transformation is desired. Where this isn’t a priority you often see colonialism rehashed and projects that fall apart as soon as outsiders leave.

I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t just be better if people like us left the fields we work in; what if we just hoped that local people would establish and run with everything? This way it would look indigenous and hopefully would last. But – I’ve never been able to shake the sense that we are actually called into this church planting work – that we should be doing what we are doing (just making sure that what we are doing is responsible and sustainable).

To back this up, I once had the opportunity to hear a strong local African leader speak to this very point. Trying to be provocative, another American friend, asked this African leader if westerners should even be here or if we should just pack up and go home. His response was quite helpful and I thought I’d expand upon it here for those that might be wondering the same thing (whether you work in Asia, Europe, the Americas or Africa, as we do). He speaks out of the church planting context and is involved in many projects and partners with many groups in western Africa.

In his response, he pinpoints 7 clear ways that describe partnership. In these 7 points he details why we, as outsiders, shouldn’t just pack up and leave.

7 Ways Outsiders Can Help Fuel Movement & Transformation

1. By Providing Clear Vision.

When we partner through vision, we help to identify what local leaders are called to lead into. This doesn’t mean we necessarily provide the vision wholesale. Rather, it’s an identification process. It means we take time to listen and tease out the perceived needs and desired direction a particular community is moving in. Often we are able to aid in articulating and casting the particulars of vision. Often we are able to paint a picture of what could be and point others directly to it. Often as outsiders we might see the fuller picture just a bit more clearly. Vision is quite important, as you cannot gain what you cannot see. Further more, where vision is not clear human nature tends to dictate that we wander, mostly aimlessly, in directions that distract from what is actually important.

2. By Providing Necessary Training.

You can’t really understate the importance of training. With the right knowledge and training people can go much further than they could without it. Often an outside perspective is able to discern the type and depth of training needed to move a leader or community from point A to point B. Training also insures that we are working ourselves out of positions, particularly positions of power, as we train local leaders to fill said positions. It’s an important “high impact / low visibility” thing we can do. If we are doing our jobs well, we should be giving our best away so that we remain invisible and locals step into the forefront. If we are doing it exceedingly well, we are actively training ourselves out of jobs so that others might step into them.

3. By Providing Necessary Marketing.

It is important to let the world know what is going on. As an example, the Syrian refugee crisis started several years ago but is just now capturing the world’s attention. While we may have talked about it back then, not everyone did and many people across the globe were surprised at the magnitude of the problem. As outsiders we can help clue the rest of the world into what’s going on by capturing information and events in order to make them known to the world outside. This is however, a sensitive process and not always acceptable and permissible to share. It’s also a process where we need to be careful not to fall into slacktivism (activism from our lazy boys that doesn’t actually do anything, like simply changing a profile picture) or even worse, exploitation. We must always tell the story out of relationship and with permission and only where it will bring positive impact. Where we share the story for our own gain we are not helping but hurting, often tremendously. We can aid significantly through the marketing and awareness process but only where it’s done sensitively in partnership with local leadership.

4. By Providing Necessary Administration.

Developing the proper administrative efforts for supporting, empowering and encouraging work can be quite a challenge, specifically where it’s never been done before. It is definitely not a glamorous role (most people don’t want to be stuck in an office) but it is a vital role in many circumstances. This is something we can teach locals to do and succeed at easily as we do it alongside them. It’s important to keep in mind that, more often than not, administrative efforts do not have to be incredibly elaborate and complex: just simple structure to aid the effort.

5. By Identifying Emerging Leaders.

If we, as outsiders, are able to successful identify emerging local leaders it becomes a real gift to the community as we encourage and empower them to take an active role in the work at hand. Often we will see and encourage potential where many will ignore it, especially those within a community. Looking from the outside in we carry a different perspective that might be a boon in this area (connecting potential leaders with appropriate positions).

6. By Identifying What Matters.

It’s not about making people look like us. In the context of church planting work, it’s about focusing on the Gospel and not my preferred American version of church. In development work it’s about identifying solutions desired by indigenous culture rather than acting as colonial overseers. By separating our own culture (that means for me my “American-ness”) from the desired message itself, we enable the message to flourish locally. Where we don’t do that we create weird hybrid people that take on aspects of our culture that just aren’t reproducible and limit long-term sustainability. If we as outsiders can successfully model this ability to identify what matters, local leadership, as they seek to take the next step in helping neighboring communities as they’ve helped there own, will carry this notion with them.

7. By Identifying Resources Locally (And Afar).

We can help identify what a community already has that they might be overlooking. And where there might be lack – we can help find the necessary resources to compensate for it. Often through looking from the outside in we are able to see the hidden strengths that locals might overlook when examining their own community. The flip side of this might be true as well: we can perceive potential needs that locals might also miss. We should be helping them identify these things. An important note: this doesn’t mean we always bring in the money. Resource can mean a lot of different things and is very dependent on the community, project and task. When the focus is solely on money, particularly in the context of what can be brought in, we often hurt communities more than we help them (through creating dependency, creating false expectations, limiting sustainability and local reproducibility, etc).

These are the 7 important roles outsiders can play according to my friend from Western Africa. It’s his perspective on the importance of insiders partnering with outsiders like us. We’ve seen the strength in this in our work and it drives us to keep walking in this direction.


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imageinvisible

How the Invisible God becomes Visible | Part 1

At the beginning of the book of Colossians is this curious phrase;

The Son is the image of the invisible God – Col 1:15

It hit me in a new way as I read it last week. To a lot of people God really does seem like the invisible God. Especially for those of us raised to think through western-influenced education, we are materialists. What we can see and observe are the things that we are most prone to believe.

Believers in a divine creator point to signs of beauty, complexity and design all around us. Nay sayers rightly point to the existence of evil and pain all around us and surmise that who ever the originator of our existence is he has long since dawdled away from our troubled existence as a planet and people.

Indeed, even those of us who profess belief in God, when circumstances are not going our way are prone to feel like God is distant, un-interested and certainly quite invisible. This is what is so special about the Christian ability to point to a flesh and blood image of this invisible God in Jesus. Jesus shows us what God looks like.

Humanity’s call to bear the image of God

I began to think about this term image, and quickly realised there are a number of places it crops up throughout scriptural witness, and most significantly in the Genesis origins story.

“..in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

It seems like there is something pretty important about this idea of image. God is interested in being known, in having his character, his likeness known. He is interested is becoming un-invisible.

In genesis the account uses a familiar word to ancient hearers that we translate into the word ‘image’. In the ancient world this word was most commonly used in relation to the idols of god’s. Idols, statues or totems were seen, not as the God’s themselves but as the place where the god could be found. The place where something of their presence resided, something that physically manifest the unseen reign and authority of the god. Later on in history, empires worldwide, including the roman empire used this idea of statues to assert the authority (and in that sense, presence) of Caesars and rulers across their vast empires. Places that the caesars themselves maybe had never visited physically, but nevertheless their authority was represented and their presence felt by the subjects.

That is why the word ‘Image’ is so shocking to ancient ears when it is heard in Genesis. The hearers are used to a world where it is the humans that create idols that bear the image of gods, but here is a God who creates images of himself and those images are human image bearers.

So God creates humanity in the garden to image or show himself, just like those idle idols of the gods of the ancient world. But this time, it is his breath that gives these image bearers real life. These humans are the place where God’s rule and reign are made visible in the garden.

We all know how the beginning of the story ended in a catastrophic fall from grace, but that was not the end of story. As Paul remarks so famously in Roman, Jesus becomes a kind of second Adam, a second humanity, a reclaiming of the ancient vocation of humans to bear the image of God faithfully.

Stay Tuned for Part two next week. Be sure not to miss it by signing up for a weekly email;


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Lighten Up | Standup Music Comedy by Reggie Watts

deen

Friday (on Sunday) Link List | 30th January 2016

Every week I’m (trying to) post links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too, this time I missed a week, so this will be the biggest list yet!

On the flipside it was a busy couple of weeks so while I read, I didn’t have the time to write much. But the coming two weeks I have a couple posts in the works and a few guest posts from friends too!

…If you read something you think should be featured here submit it here, starting your message LINK LIST SUGGESTION.


What I’ve posted

Over the busyness of the last two weeks, helping run a staff conference we also got to celebrate our honourary niece here in South Africa who completed her first year of school by seeing Mi Casa play in the beautiful kirstenbosch gardens in Cape Town.

We also managed to pack in seeing Mumford and Sons plus the Soil! Lots of music in one week!

#MumfordandSons live in #CapeTown tonight

A photo posted by Liam Byrnes (@byrnesyliam) on


Theology and Christianity

True sacrifice is nothing other than the unity of people with one another through the participation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Christ’s sacrifice reverses the idea that one must achieve domination over the enemy to achieve unity. Christ instead takes on the role of victim, absorbs the violence of the world instead of deals it out, and thereby offers a world in which reconciliation rather than violence can hold sway.

This is why the Eucharist is the antidote to war for Augustine. In the Eucharist, the whole economy of scarcity and competition that leads to war is done away with. Augustine makes clear that God does not need to be appeased as the Roman gods do. God is abundance, not lack, so participation in God’s life in the body of Christ does away with competition over scarce goods among people. True sacrifice is unity, and true unity is the participation of the human community in God’s life …

A few more paragraphs to this that are worth reading here.

…as Doug Wilson puts it, “David Bentley Hart is, by my rough estimate, about three times smarter than I am. The difficulty is that he writes as though he is five times smarter, and I find this off-putting.”

Martin Luther King Day and Race Relations

  • Given the increase in attention race relations in the US has been getting, the recent Martin Luther King Jr day created an oppurtunity for many insightful posts, not least this one from Rachel Held Evans. Although South Africa and the US’s histories have significant differences, these words from MLK particularly resonated for the modern context of SA;

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not . . . the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direction action.’ . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.

Miscellany

The UK-based international charity Oxfam reported this week that the world’s richest 62 people now own as much wealth as half the world’s population. Super-rich individuals saw an increase of 44 percent since 2010, taking their cumulative wealth to $1.76 trillion – equivalent to the total owned by 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest people. The report also stated that tax havens were helping corporations and individuals to stash away about $7.6 trillion, depriving governments of $190bn in tax revenue every year.

Praise God for things that are counter, original, spare and strange.

Like maybe me. Like maybe you.

Productivity and Habits


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mumford

Mumford and Sons Playing Cape Town this weekend

A few months ago, I mentioned Mumford and Sons release details of their first every tour of South Africa here and more recently they announced they will be supported ‘the Very Best’, ‘Beatenberg’, ‘John Wizards’ and ‘Baaba Maal’. Well the time has come. They played last night and tonight and so I thought Id share some music (both theirs and the support acts) for those who are attending and those who are far.

Mumford and Sons

Support Acts

Beatenberg

The Very Best

John Wizards

Baaba Maal


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“There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end.”

Saint Augustine - City of God

friday17

Friday (on sunday) Link List | 17th January 2016

Every Friday I’m posting links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too, next week I want to start sharing some links readers of the site are finding interesting…If you read something you think should be featured here submit it here, starting your message LINK LIST SUGGESTION.


What I posted recently

Well, it’s been a busy week back to work (yes, work other than writing on here), and we had a massive wild fire locally pictured here.

But I was delighted for the first time in a while to post a guest post from my friend Isaac Aho; Tolstoy on Christian non-violence.

Secondly, I posted a story (not mine), about an encounter around african polygamy which helps demonstrate how things which seems so clear cut from a distance become more human and therefore complex the closer you are to them.

Other than that I indulged in posting a little music (mostly for the last 40 seconds of the song!) Watch that here | MuteMath – Vitals.


Theology

Miscellany


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MuteMath – Vitals